Up On The Roof !
The eighties. Commodore 64's. Walkman's. Vinyl. Game shows on the radio. Bad hair and even worse make-up...and that was just the men! Back in a time fashion completely forgot (Mullett, Pony-tails, Shoulder-pads - yes we had them all) League of Ireland football was enduring some of its worst attendance figures of several decades. Television had taken over the households and sitting in your comfy armchair listen to the dulcet tones of Brian Moore on ITV's Big Match seemed better then putting on a snorkel jacket and going out in torrential rain to watch your local club. I vividly remember going to one match at Kilcohan Park - home of Waterford United, in August 1984 when the 'Blues had a paying gate of £98. You felt embarrassed for the club and hoped a surge of people may swell the number late on but the next week the Munster Express reported 49 people had attended the game. Season tickets holders were a long way off in those days. Remember we were already paying nearly 40% in tax to a government run by a man who told us to tighten our belts whilst buying silk shirts and investing in the odd Island. So you can forgive some clubs if investments in the odd tin of paint and some nails from local hardware store were neglected! Milltown, Oriel and Dalymount probably remained the only grounds were decent numbers attended games (as you can see above) and at that point you couldn't blame the clubs for using the "fit 'em in where we can mentality"
however the Valley Parade fire of 1985 would change that....at least in England.
The shocking events of Saturday May 11th 1985 at Bradford City's Valley Parade was , what we then thought would be, the worst loss of life at an English football ground.
The match against Lincoln City had begun in a mood of celebration with City winning the Third Division Championship, however the stand (which had been officially condemned at the time and was due to be replaced) caught fire at 3.40pm.
In less then four minutes the entire stand was engulfed in flames.
56 people lost their life that day. I, like, many, could only watch in stunned silence at what was unfolding in front of my eyes. It was simply awful. Men, women and children who had come to watch their team play and not return to their homesteads. Imagine getting that call or visit from the police. This wasn't Chernobyl, a war torn country or Northern Ireland during the Troubles.
This was a game of football.
The Road to Damascus moment of neglecting crowd safety in Ireland came the same year in February 1985. Ireland took on an Italian side still under the title of World Champions in Dalymount. Right from the start it was obvious the ground could get nowhere near accommodating 40000 spectators.Fans actually had to be passed down the sidelines (literally a foot away from play) in order to avoid being crushed. For anyone there with a child it must have been worrying.
If it was frightening to watch on television can you imagine what it must have been like to have been there?
I know there are a few on the JFTF page who were at this game and to hear their insight has been interesting to say the least. The image above is one that won't leave my mind. We might laugh but seriously how dangerous was this at the time.
However worse was sadly to follow . On the 15th of May 1989 at a FA Cup Semi-Final between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest 96 people lost their lives after crowd congestion at one end of the ground.
Ninety-four people died on the day; another person died in hospital days later and the final victim, who had been put into a persistent vegetative state by the crush and had never regained consciousness, died in 1993.
At the time of the disaster, most English football stadiums had high steel fencing between the spectators and the playing field in response to pitch invasions. Hooliganism had affected the sport for some years, and was particularly rife in England. From 1974, when these security standards were put in place, crushes occurred in several English stadiums.
This would all change with the Taylor enquiry and all seated stadia at the top level. For many in the lower leagues this wasn't an option but money was spent to try arrange for more seating and less terracing.
In Ireland, Shelbourne would lead the way with the investment of Tony Donnelly's money and in the mid-nineties made something completely unheard of in League of Ireland football...an all-seated stadium and others followed. Though conditions still lack at certain clubs...
Finn Harps will tell you the move to Stranorlar can't come soon enough , and both Tolka and Dalymount have had to close the Ballybough End and Tramway End respectively. But the move forward has been lead, eventually, by Rovers magnificent Tallaght Stadium, the all-seated Turners Cross, Waterford's RSC and revamped versions of the Brandywell, Oriel Park, Terryland and Sligo Rovers, which makes the chances of the following below ever less likely.
Seasoned war weary, battle hardened fans will tell you a move to all seated stadium has diluted the atmosphere at their grounds. The Shed at Cork was one of the last bastions of old school stands that created a great atmosphere at Turners Cross while the Shed at the Showgrounds in Sligo has been replaced with a superb facility at Rovers but many lament the loss of their shed.
We are now in unprecedented times. Times that might dictate that we have grounds with social distancing at a football match where we cant hug fans after a last minute goal?
What the future holds I'm not sure, but the days of hopping onto a roof and singing like a madman and dicing with death are, thankfully, well behind us.